Organic Trade Association
Organic Trade Association
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Quick Overview


Organic Agriculture and Production


Organic refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed.  It includes a system of production, processing, distribution and sales that assures consumers that the products maintain the organic integrity that begins on the farm.


Setting the stage for U.S. National organic standards, the U.S. Congress adopted the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990 as part of the 1990 Farm Bill. This action was followed by over a decade of public input and discussion, which resulted in a National Organic Program final rule published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in December 2000 and implemented in October 2002.


These stringent standards put in place a system to certify that specific practices are used to produce and process organic agricultural ingredients used for food and non-food purposes.


National organic standards set out the methods, practices and substances used in producing and handling crops, livestock and processed agricultural products. The standards include a national list of approved synthetic and prohibited non-synthetic substances for organic production. See for more details.


Organic production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organically produced foods also must be produced without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering and other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. Cloning animals or using their products would be considered inconsistent with organic practices.  Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.


National organic standards require that organic growers and handlers be certified by third-party state or private agencies or other organizations that are accredited by USDA. Although farmers and handlers who sell less than $5,000 a year in organic agricultural products and retailers that do not process these products are exempt from certification, they must meet all certified organic grower and handler requirements to maintain the organic integrity of the organic products they sell. Anyone who knowingly sells or mislabels as organic a product that was not produced and handled in accordance with the regulations can be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. 


Consumers can look for the “USDA Organic” seal or other approved labeling, and for the name of the certifier on the label of the products they consider for purchase.  Products labeled “100% Organic” and carrying the “USDA Organic” seal are just that – they contain all organically produced ingredients.  Products that are made from at least 95% organic ingredients, and have remaining ingredients that are approved for use in organic products may also carry the “USDA Organic” seal.  In addition, products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients may label those on the ingredient listing.  Producers and processors voluntarily use these labels, and may use organic ingredients without being required to label them.


Organic products can be found in grocery stores, cooperatives, specialty stores, farmer’s markets, farm stands, online, in many restaurants, and many other outlets.


For more information from USDA on labeling and other issues go to

U.S. Organic Sales

The U.S. organic industry grew 21 percent overall to reach $17.7 billion in consumer sales in 2006, according to The Organic Trade Association’s 2007 Manufacturer Survey. Organic foods grew 16.2 percent in 2005 and accounted for $13.8 billion in sales. Nonfood organic products (personal care products, nutritional supplements, household cleaners, flowers, pet food, and clothing, bedding and other products from organic fibers such as flax, wool, and cotton) grew 26 percent, to total $938 million in U.S. sales in 2006.


Organic foods and beverages continue to be one of the fastest growing segments in the overall $598 billion food market. According to the OTA survey, the $16.7 million in consumer sales of organic foods and beverages in 2006 represents an increase in market penetration from 2.5 percent of total U.S. food saels in 2005 to 2.8 percent in 2006. This represents a two percentage point increase from 0.8 percent in 1997 when organic food sales tracking began. The fastest growing food categories and their rates of growth over the previous year are organic meat (29 percent), organic dairy products (25 percent), and organic fruits and vegetables (24 percent). The fastest-growing non-food categories are organic pet food (36.7 percent), household products/cleaners (31.6 percent), and fiber linens and clothing (26.9 percent).


Organic foods are increasingly sold in mass market grocery stores, which represent the largest single distribution channel, accounting for 38 percent of organic food sales in 2006. Large natural food chains, along with small natural food chains or independent natural groceries and health food stores, represented about 44 percent of organic food sales. About 2 percent of organic food is sold through farmer’s markets.


Source: The Organic Trade Association (OTA) and Organic Trade Association’s 2007 Manufacturer Survey (Because USDA does not yet do comprehensive market studies of organic sales, as it does for conventional U.S. agriculture, OTA performs this research on the industry for its members and the public.) 

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Research and Promotion 2012